Australia’s energy minister has urged homes in New South Wales – a state that includes the country’s largest city Sydney – to turn off their lights in the event of an energy crisis.
Chris Bowen says people shouldn’t use electricity for two hours each evening if they “have a choice”. However, he said he was “convinced” that the blackout could be avoided.
This comes after Australia’s main wholesale electricity market was suspended due to a jump in prices. Mr Bowen called on people living in New South Wales to save as much electricity as possible.
“If you have a choice about when to run certain items, don’t run them from 6 to 8 [in the evening],” he said during a televised media conference in Canberra.
Australia is one of the world’s biggest exporters of coal and liquefied natural gas, but has been battling a power crisis since last month. Three-fourths of the country’s electricity is still generated from coal. It has long been accused of not doing enough to cut its emissions by investing in renewable energy.
In recent weeks, Australia has felt the effects of coal supply disruptions, shutdowns at many coal-fired power plants and rising global energy prices.
Earlier this year floods affected some coal mines in New South Wales and Queensland, while technical issues cut production at two mines supplying the largest coal-fired station on the market in New South Wales.
About a quarter of Australia’s coal-fired power generation capacity is currently out of service due to unexpected outages and scheduled maintenance. Some power producers have seen their costs soar as sanctions on Russia over Ukraine’s invasion have soared global coal and gas prices.
Meanwhile, energy demand surged amid a cold winter and Australia’s economy opened up after the easing of Covid-19 restrictions.
All this has helped push electricity prices in the wholesale market to a price cap above A$300 (£173; $210) per megawatt-hour set by the market regulator, the Australian Energy Market Operator (Aemo).
However, this limit was lower than the production cost for many generators, which led to the decision to stop capacity.